Wanda Harper has been a tattoo artist and prominent businesswoman here in Peoria since 1989 when she first opened her tattoo and piercing shop on Farmington Road. At that time she was just one of five female tattoo artists in the entire country! Through the years she’s won over twenty awards for her work, been featured in such media outlets as CNN, the BBC, the PJ Star, Miami Times, the Observer, Tattoo Magazine, Tokyo News and a wonderful little publication that was published right here in this city, People of Peoria!
A lot of people don’t know it because they’re placed where you can’t see them easily, but I have four tattoos. I got my first one way back in 1981 when it was a pretty radical thing to do and you can read more about that down below in the bonus section of today’s post. Wanda gave me my last tattoo back in 1990 and I decided to stop by her tattoo shop, I’m No Angel and get a brand new tattoo. It’s been over twenty years and I think I’m due!
Here we are at I’m No Angel Tattoos on Farmington Road.
Let’s go inside and see what’s happening in here.
This is the front waiting room, it’s very nice, but I don’t feel like waiting today, so I’ll just go ahead and barge right in. It’s what I do!
I think I see a familiar face over there behind the counter...
It’s Wanda Harper who I haven’t seen since I got my last tattoo over twenty years ago! She’s looking great and it’s cool to see her again! I showed her the tattoo she gave me and she told me she remembered giving it to me. When you read about it below, you’ll see why, it’s a little bit of an unusual tattoo! As I mentioned above, Wanda was also featured in my magazine, People of Peoria and it was fun to catch up with her after all these years!
In addition to tattoos, Wanda also does piercings in here and the front counter is filled with jewelry for piercing.
Wanda can do custom made tattoos with your own artwork, or you can choose art from the shop.
There’s all kinds of art to choose from here in color, black and white and everything in between.
These are a couple of shots of Wanda from an issue of Heartland Magazine.
This is the tattoo and piercing room in the back.
Here’s Wanda getting things ready for my tattoo.
And check it out, here’s my friend Matt Buedel who’s going to take photos of this inky event! Matt’s photos have been featured here on MBIP and you can check them out here, scroll down past the toilet photos.
Matt just came back from a cross country trip and he spent several days and nights in the desert and took some stunning photos on the trip. This is my favorite one. It’s the Whitecrack Campgrounds. Ha ha ha! Insert your own white trash joke here. Now, enough about Matt, let’s get back to my tattoo! Matt took the MBIP camera and he’ll be taking all the photos from here, so the image quality will improve greatly! Take it away Matt!
And here we go! I have to admit, I’m a little nervous, it’s been a long time since my last tattoo and I kind of forget what the experience is like.
Luckily Wanda is a pro and she really puts you at ease before the tattooing process begins.
Before the tattoo, Wanda, Matt and I had a nice conversation with topics ranging from The Dakota 38 documentary, The Stray Cats, The Untamed Brothers, tattoos, Matt’s cross country trip and of course, Christine McNeil!
And now it’s time to get down to business and get my fifth tattoo. Matt really took some great photos here.
Here’s Wanda starting to put the ink on my forearm.
It didn’t take long and my fifth tattoo is firmly in place on my forearm. It’s a tribute to MBIP and everyone who reads this blog! This was really a fun afternoon and thanks to Wanda for the expert tattoo work and conversation and to Matt for hanging out and taking some great photos! We’ll see you all tomorrow!
Related Posts: Lunch With...Matt Buedel At El Zarape, PTA—Public Toilet Alert!—The Peoria Public Library (Downtown Branch)—Plus A Look At The "Every Other" Exhibit Featuring Photography By Matt Buedel And Scott Cavanah...Sheesh! and Sombrero Time With Terry Towery and Matt Buedel @ Los Jimadores.
Bonus Stories: The Other Four Tattoos
As I stated above, I have four other tattoos. Here they are and the stories behind them.
First Tattoo: Summer of 1981
It’s hard for young people to realize this today, but back in 1981, getting a tattoo was a pretty radical thing to do. That summer, The Stray Cats first album was released in England and my brother Jim bought an import copy of it.
I was at his apartment listening to it and we were looking at the pictures of the band with all of their tattoos running up and down their arms.
We really thought that looked cool and before you know it, we were on our way to the only tattoo parlor in Peoria at the time, Smitty’s Tattoos on Adams Street. We copied the Stray Cat tattoos off of Stray Cat Brian Setzer’s arm and Jim got a tattoo on his foot and I got one on my left bicep. Once again, this is hard to believe, but this caused a huge reaction from people that saw them. One of the first to see our tattoos was my friend, MBIP Contributor and owner of Acme Comics, Bob Gordon. Jim and I went to Coop Records after we got the tattoos and showed them to some of the people in the shop and Bob was there. Last night I asked him to write down his memory of that visit and here it is.
“The first time I met Marty was at Co-op records on Main Street in 1981. This is the location that later became a Walgreens, later demolished and is Bradley University housing.
Stopping by the store one afternoon, my friends Charlie and Russell were working the counter. They were both looking befuddled and bewildered talking to these two brothers who just left Smitty's Tattoo parlor. Russell said these guys just got some crazy tattoo work done that I had to see.
I casually knew Marty's brother, Jim, a handful of times from being at Co-op, bars, shows, etc. Seemed we were often at the same unique place at the same time. I was finally officially introduced to him and his crazy-ass little brother, Marty that day.
Marty had his sleeve rolled over his shoulder exposing a fresh Stray Cats logo tattoo. At first I thought, right, nice fake. Upon closer inspection, this was the real thing! Marty said it was a bit sore but not that painful during the procedure. Russell says "take a look at what Jim got" By then Jim I had migrated towards the back of the store where the cut-out discount records. He hikes up his pant leg, flips off his sandal and there's a damn Stray Cat logo on his instep. He said "that hurt like a son of a bitch and still does" as he limped back to the front of the store.
I had seen quite a few tattooed guys as a kid but almost all of the were old time military guys or bikers. Never colorful tats, let alone rockabilly band logos. Pretty remarkable.
The typical tattoo questions were asked "Did it hurt?" "Was it expensive?" "Is it safe?", "Will you do it again?", "Why did you put it there?" You know, questions often asked after your first time having sex.
After Jim and Marty left the three of us stood at the counter in amazement. Almost nobody had tattoos in those days, it was way more daring than a guy with an earring. Outside of the Stray Cats we couldn't recall any celebrity or musician that had visible work.
As hard it is to believe 34 later, this was pretty damn extreme for 1981.”
Thanks for them memories, Bob!
Second Tattoo: Fall of 1981
Jim and I got so much grief from assholes about our tattoos that there was only one thing to do...get another one! I got another Stray Cat tattoo above my ankle and Jim got one with some stars around it on his left leg. The good thing about Jim and I was, we truly never gave a fuck about what anyone thought about us because we always had each other. I didn’t appreciate that at the time, but I do now. I’m really glad I have these tattoos to remember times like these where we just laughed at everybody else for being too fucking serious about everything.
Third Tattoo: Winter of 1982
Culture Club had a huge hit single in the fall of 1982 with, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, and again, it’s hard to imagine now, but Boy George really created a lot of controversy with the way he dressed and wore makeup. I really loved the hate he stirred up in people and I found a cartoon of him as a puppet that I thought was pretty cool and decided to have that put on the top of my foot as a tatttoo. I went to Smitty’s tattoo shop and as usual there were three or four bikers hanging around in there. I went in, gave Smitty my drawing and told him I’d like a tattoo of it on top of my foot. He asked who it was and I thought it was wise not to announce that I was getting a tattoo of Boy George on top of my foot in an audience of a few rough and tumble bikers, so I just told him it was a cartoon I liked. About halfway into the tattooing process, Smitty looked up at me and said the following tumultuous words: “This is that Boy George singer, isn’t it?”
I didn’t have time to answer before one of the bikers stood up and shouted at me, “What are you, some sort of a fucking faggot?” And then all of them stood up and were screwing up their faces at me.
I just sat there and tried not to throw up out of fear. I had a sinking feeling any second I was going to be thrown out of Smitty’s tattoo chair and stomped to bits and pieces.
Luckily, Smitty either wanted to save my ass or he didn’t want a murder in his shop, probably both and he said, “Back off guys. Boy George is a good old boy! He’s a one percenter just like you guys.” And I agreed and said I was a fan because he had the ability to piss off all the squares and pretty soon we were all laughing about it. I gave Smitty a twenty dollar tip that day!
Fourth Tattoo: Summer of 1990
Sometime in the summer of 1990 I had noticed that there was a new tattoo parlor in town on Farmington Road. By then I had had years of people telling me how stupid it was to have tattoos, so my idea was to get a really stupid one, so when somebody said tattoos were stupid, I could say, you want to see a stupid tattoo, well, here you go! This is when I first met Wanda and I took a photo of her pierced tongue for People of Peoria. And now all these years ago I’ve taken another picture of her for MBIP! I love it when things come full circle like this!